Failing to Get Traction and (Almost) Giving up on the Road to My First $1,000 in Revenue

A few weeks ago I was listening to an interview of Patrick McKenzie on the Bootrapped.fm podcast, and heard my name being mentioned.

Andrey (one of the hosts) mentions that he was reading my blog and found that I made launching and growing Bidsketch sound easy:

“It’s kind of like, ‘I announced it on Twitter, now I’m in beta and the beta is 600 users. Now I’m out of beta and it’s three months in, and I’m making $1,000 a month.’

This has been the experience of reading blog posts about how to launch a SaaS app, but this has never been my experience of launching a product.

So I went back through my old blog posts and read through them. Sure enough, reading through those posts it sounds like I had no trouble launching and growing my first real product.

But it wasn’t easy; it took a ton of work and I almost quit a few times.

So I’ve decided to write about how many times I failed to get traction, or almost gave up, on the way to my first $1,000.
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Getting 200% More Actionable Feedback from Customers that Cancel

Getting useful cancellation feedback from customers is tough.

The problem is that once people have canceled, they’re no longer engaged and will rarely spend the time to give you feedback. One of the best things I’ve ever done to combat this with Bidsketch was to add a mandatory freeform text field that says:

Please help us improve by stating the reason (Required)

Sure, some people enter blank spaces or random characters, but the majority make an effort to say something semi-useful.  A small percentage will write truly useful comments that can lead to some sort of action.

To analyze the data I import the comments into a Google spreadsheet and add a few columns to help me segment them. Read the rest of this entry »


Hiring High Quality Developers on a Bootstrapper’s Budget

Most of the info you’ll find on hiring is meant for large companies or startups with funding.

What if you’re bootstrapping?

While you’re not going to be competing with Google or Facebook for the same people, you still want developers that can do high quality work to help build your product.

The post that follows covers what I’ve learned about hiring high quality developers while bootstrapping Bidsketch over the last three years.
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What I Learned From Increasing My Prices

Last month Bidsketch had the biggest increase in revenue it’s ever had.

Before that, the biggest increase in revenue came when FreshBooks emailed a million people and mentioned Bidsketch as a new integration. I got so many new sales notifications that day, I thought someone had hacked my server. It was nuts.

Last month’s increase in revenue was double that one.

Conversions and traffic didn’t increase, though. Nope, the reason I saw this kind of growth was because I redesigned my plans and increased pricing for new signups.

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How’d I Grow Revenue 3x in 2011?

So I decided to check out how most of my growth in 2011 happened. I was looking for anything that lead to an increase in signups, traffic or revenue.

The blue line is traffic and the pink is revenue:

Revenue and Traffic Graph

Note: Graph from DigMyData.com

One thing that jumps out is that revenue growth was been strangely steady throughout 2011. Nothing gave me a huge jump in revenue at any point in time it seems. Actually, the graph is a little misleading because October, November, and December revenue growth was slooow. I saw about 4x growth in January over those months (3x in a few others).

Anyways, things that worked:

  • Getting a blog post and tweet from 37signals for a Highrise integration
  • Doing an AppSumo deal
  • Doing a couple of interviews (Mixergy and strangely enough The Startup Foundry)
  • Cross promotion email with My SEO Tool

Those gave me some nice traffic and resulted in more signups but the best was definitely the integration (which is consistent with what I’ve seen in past integrations).

So what did I learn?

The “needs improvement” stuff:

  • Traffic hasn’t dramatically increased in a year
  • I didn’t try enough enough new things — I need to experiment more and push on the things that seem to be working
  • Annotate more of my experiments (there were several things that I tried and went nowhere but I can’t remember since I didn’t jot them down anywhere)

The good:

  • Do more integrations and make sure they get promoted
  • More cross-promotion emails
  • Interviews are stressful for me but take the opportunity when asked
  • Revenue kept increasing even though traffic stayed about the same (on average)

What about SEO?

While my monthly total traffic at the end of 2011 was about 13k/month, I stared with 10k/month. Not a huge increase.

If I look into search traffic I see that it increased from about 3.5k early in 2011 to about 7k by the end of the year. Double the traffic and it basically accounts for the 3k/month increase I had by the end of the year. OK, but I need to do better.

Top Referrer Sites?

  1. diythemes.com — 9,304
  2. speckyboy.com — 5,192
  3. appsumo.com — 2,414
  4. ryanscherf.net — 2,134
  5. freshbooks.com — 1,013 
  6. news.ycombinator.com — 1,010
  7. mixergy.com — 846

Interestingly enough the highest converting sites look very different from this list. The other thing that jumps out form looking at the list is that I need to do a better job of getting write-ups on other sites. These numbers are lame.

So while I had 3x increase in revenue and did some work on the conversion side of things, it wasn’t an amazing year on the marketing side of things. This year I’m already off to a better start and have some new things I’m excited about trying :)